My Symptoms Are Gross and That’s Fine

White, curvy Morgan human shows off their gross broken skin

Bodies are incredible. They withstand all sorts of bullshit (some more than others), run in complicated and ingenious ways, and carry our consciousness from one place to another. In a lot of ways, even when I dislike how my body looks, I can sincerely appreciate all the things it does for me.

Or at least, most of the things. I naturally experience a lot of frustration with my brain, which seems to sit in my skull for the sole purpose of tormenting me. I therefore medicate my brain, and those meds have side-effects. Sometimes these side-effects are physically uncomfortable, like when I tried an antipsychotic which gave me severely restless legs. Sometimes, though, (like when I tried a different antipsychotic), these side-effects can be upsetting because they’re gross (like when I lactated all over my clothes).

There’s nothing inherently gross about lactation, obviously. It’s how most mammals have survived this long, and it can be a beautiful, meaningful way for a parent to interact with their child. However, if you are for example an insane twenty-something-year-old with a lot of baggage about kids and pregnancy, lactating is of little use, and instead is just a secretion that you have to work out how to manage, particularly because it’s a secretion which can begin to smell unappealing quite quickly (and of course, with my luck, this happened at the height of summer). Grossness is a very relative concept, but I have yet to find a human who thinks spoiled breast milk isn’t gross.

A “gross” symptom or side-effect might be gross to you, or the problem may be that other people will perceive it as gross. If it’s gross to you, like my lactating onto my clothes was to me, you live in discomfort, anxious that the gross thing will reoccur or worsen. It somewhat helps, in these situations, to hear from other people who have also dealt with this. I think the concept of grossness – or, maybe more accurately, the stigma and shame piled high around typical bodily functions – thrives on going mostly undiscussed, which is why I’m here to tell you about my leaky boobs.

I’m not stopping there, though. That’s an extremely straightforward physiological event – eat meds, lactation activates. Another, more complicated thing I suffer with is: my meds cause me hyperhidrosis, or excessive sweating. I’m embarrassed when I noticeably sweat onto any surface, and generally tend to feel like a dick for being a walking, dripping biohazard, even though realistically my sweat shouldn’t harbour any weird pathogens. More than that, though, I then have to deal with a symptom other people would consider gross, but which I mostly consider fucking painful: sweat rashes.

White, curvy Morgan human shows off their gross broken skin

This is going to maybe sound gross to y’all, but especially if I sleep or nap, I will wake up with a stinging either where my thigh meets my pubic area or underneath a boob (or both). If I just gently touch these areas, it seems as though my sweat has disintegrated the skin entirely, and said skin forms a sweaty sludge which I have to very gently wash away from the intact skin. These sweat rashes are made worse by my collagen-deficient skin being very prone to breaking (or seemingly just… melting away), which is not my fault, and by the fact that I only manage two showers a week at a maximum, which kinda is my fault. Showers are an incredible challenge for my autism, so I usually slather the cracked skin in Sudocrem and hope for the best.

The location of these sweat rashes is all the more cringe-inducing because I’m a sex blogger and a slut, and the presence of cracked, raw and melting skin makes me fear that interacting with my vulva or tits will be unpleasant. The irony is that I tend to shower more often when I’m more sexually active, so if I could get over myself and my melty skin enough to engage in some sex or kink with my long-term partners, at least, I could end up ameliorating the issue purely by accident. My Logic Brain seems to know that my partners will not be repulsed by my few patches of broken skin, but societal shame about sweating and not washing enough holds me back from feeling sexy, which in turn holds me back from engaging in play.

Another thing isn’t so much my body as it is my brain, but it manifests on my body – picking. Ripping skin from the soles of my feet, plucking and plucking at my mons pubis and chewing the inside of my mouth are only three ways that I seem to be constantly trying to whittle down my body, and they all leave red marks, broken skin, swelling and a general feeling of unsexiness. But, again, discussion of these things helps to take the stigma out of them, especially reasoned discussion with risk awareness in mind. People’s skin sheds naturally as they traverse the world, so to me skin-picking seems like less of biohazard than sneezing in a public space. (Correct me in the comments if I’m wrong – I am not a scientist of any kind.) Biting my mouth literally only affects me, so I think the main “gross”/unappealing factor of that one is that it induces a kind of sympathy pain reaction. (People might also be grossed out by me swallowing my own skin, but we eat the skins of mammals all the time.) Either way, here’s how it looks:

Regardless of why these things are seen as gross, the irony here is that feeling embarrassed, ashamed, guilty and anxious about your skin-picking is only going to prompt more picking, quickly turning into a vicious cycle.

There are other symptoms which I don’t experience, or only experience rarely, that are considered to be gross. I do struggle on the odd occasion with hyperfixating to the point that it affects my continence (specifically, my ability to notice I need to pee and get to the bathroom in time), but I don’t have a lot of experience with digestive symptoms – some people do, though, and are sharing their experiences in a neutral and shame-free way, which is exactly what’s needed to start shedding the shame and stigma attached to one’s body acting outside of one’s control. From there, we can focus more on making life with these symptoms comfortable and dignified.

Pride: A Complicated Experience

Stock photo of glitter laid out in stripes to form a rainbow. Glitter is present at a lot of Pride events, in case you didn't know ;)

I haven’t been to a tonne of Pride events.

I came out to myself as bi when I was about 13, and as nonbinary when I was about 17. Unusually, I think, I didn’t feel any internalised shame about my queer identity in the traditional sense. When I realised I was bisexual, I was excited about it: excited about my newfound connection to the LGBTQ+ community, excited about the possibility of kissing girls and excited that I’d found a label that fit me, after a year or two of worrying that I was simply a lesbian who was very bad at lesbianing.

When I came out to myself as nonbinary, I felt a degree of anxiety that I wasn’t not-cis enough (I didn’t experience all the dysphoria that mainstream media promised me, and I’d only put the pieces together as a young adult), but mostly I was, again, excited to find a word that fit my experience of gender. I understood, in theory, that a lot of people needed the Pride movement to allay their feelings of internalised shame, fear and grossness about being anything other than cishet, but whether it was the autism or my mum’s accepting and loving influence, I never felt bad about being queer.

This didn’t mean that I was uninterested in Pride events, but I didn’t feel any desperate pull towards them. I could experience the joy of being part of the LGBTQ+ community online, in the comfort of my own home, and that felt like enough for me. The first time I went to Pride, it was for an unconventional reason: I was deeply, deeply depressed, and it was a reason to leave the house.

My hometown’s Pride event was, and still is, mercifully grassroots in nature, held in a spacious park and never too crowded. But this didn’t stop me from feeling overwhelmed, especially when I found that there was nowhere for me to sit down and rest my disabled little legs, and nothing was signposted, leading to me getting turned around and confused at least twice an hour. I loved spotting other people’s flags, starting conversations with people about their dogs or their outfits, and talking to the people who ran stalls relevant to my interests, but I left the event exhausted and overstimulated and had to spend at least a couple of days in bed or otherwise in my pajamas, recharging my limited energy.

Bigger Pride events, as you can imagine, intimidate me. I went to one in my university city and found it so challenging that I slipped away on more than one occasion to the outskirts of the event, taking deep breaths and chewing on free sweets obtained from various stalls and booths. I know lots of other people find Pride inaccessible, and this year, I stuck to my hometown’s event – but still needed to be babysat by my girlfriends and metamour, reminded to eat, and encouraged to leave earlier than most people might because I was ready to lie down on the grass and give up.

This is why I feel conflicted about Pride. I already felt like it might not be for me, since I didn’t experience the internalised shame that so many LGBTQ+ people talked about, and after having found so many Pride events to be lacking in the accessibility department, I felt that even more strongly. Couple that with a police presence which makes my autistic nerves run higher than the volume on the main stage’s speakers and the ongoing online discussions about who “belongs” at Pride, I’ve often wondered what Pride does have to offer me.

The thing is, Pride as a concept is great. I enjoy rainbow paraphernalia and I even enjoy watching corporations desperately try to cater to me (only to drop the facade on the 1st of July) and then watching other LGBTQ+ people mock them for it. Pride month is fun, it reminds me of the importance of community and visibility, and it gives me an excuse to respond melodramatically to every minor inconvenience (“It’s raining? During this, Pride Month?”). But I’m starting to acknowledge that I pressure myself into attending events that I don’t really need to be at. I already know my community exists, I have created safe spaces of my own to be queer in, and I don’t feel gross or ashamed or anything other than pleased about my queer identity.

I know Pride does a lot for a lot of people. I love seeing people at Pride events blossoming with confidence they might not feel anywhere else, and I appreciate that there exists a space where everyone can just… be their authentic selves, without fear of repercussion. But with gatekeeping, corporate involvement, inaccessibility and the rest of it, it’s a movement and a series of events that I feel somewhat disconnected from.

I will continue to defend my LGBTQ+ siblings’ right to attend Pride events, obviously. I want to speak up in defense of asexual and aromantic people’s place at Pride and about the ways that a police presence can make POC and neurodivergent people feel deeply uncomfortable, but I might not need to push myself into events to achieve that. I suppose it’s a result of internalised ableism, something I do experience a lot of, that I feel like I need to do what my abled friends are doing whether I actually want to or not. And I suppose it’s important for me as an activist to confront my internalised ableism, and that might mean staying home from crowded, noisy, police-infested Pride events when I need to.

I’m still going to buy shit with rainbows on it, though. I’m always going to buy shit with rainbows on.